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trump12This blog entry is presented less as a political opinion than a medical opinion, but the political implications are staggering. I believe America has elected a sociopath as its next President, and, as a “mental health professional” that concerns me – in fact, it terrifies me.

What is a sociopath?

The current diagnostic term (per the new DSM-5) for the condition I’m referring to is “anti-social personality disorder” and, if you care to, you can go to the manual and read a long description of the symptoms. It all sounds like Donald Trump, almost comically so, from “inflated and arrogant self-appraisal” to “glib, superficial charm.”

I’m the first to admit there’s a worrisome aspect to mental health diagnoses, which is that they appear subjective. There’s no blood test, no pathogen you can stick under a microscope or obvious physiological indicator of disease. There’s just a description of human behavior and emotions. That hardly seems medical.

Nonetheless, the irregular human behaviors and troubling emotions that define mental illness – including sociopathy – are real and, they exist on a spectrum, so when they are severe, they can be very serious indeed. We all feel down once in a while, but if you witnessed the effects of catatonia in someone suffering from major depression, its severity might startle you. Likewise, knowing someone slightly “kooky” is different from encountering someone suffering from the hallucinations and delusions produced by severe schizophrenia.

Sociopathy is unique and troubling in part because of a peculiar paradox: the more severe the condition, the more difficult it can be to detect. It’s hard to see what isn’t there, and sociopathy, unlike schizophrenia or depression, is about the absence of normal controls on a person’s behavior. It’s easier to notice something new, that doesn’t belong in someone’s psyche, than something we take for granted that’s missing. And what’s missing in a sociopath is the very humanity that might make it hard for him to hide his condition.

So what is sociopathy, really? In brief, it amounts to the absence of a conscience. Whatever it is within us that we call empathy or caring or concern or connection to others, doesn’t exist in a sociopath.

My father, a psychiatrist who ran a secure ward at a state mental hospital, used to quip: “You know the true sociopath because he’s the one you lend money.”

What Dad meant was that the most severe sociopath is the one who can even fool a psychiatrist. And it really happened sometimes – my father used to recount in amazement stories about sociopaths talking their way right out of secure mental wards.

How do they do it? A sociopath has the amazing ability to tell you exactly what you want to hear. It’s as though they possessed empathy – astonishing powers of empathy – in the sense that they can intuit your desires, and sense what it is that you need to hear them say in order to produce a predictable emotional response. This creates a frightening ability to control others simply through insincere words and the inauthentic play-acting of emotions.

A moment after they tell you something – and this is the truly chilling aspect of sociopathy – a sociopath might be with someone else and say precisely the opposite of what they just said to you, with appropriate emotions displayed, simply because they sense that other person needs to hear something else and the sociopath wishes to control them, as well.

A sociopath will tell anyone whatever it takes, complete with apparently sincere emotions, to create the desired response in them, and thus influence their actions.

This phenomenon is sometimes called being a “pathological liar” and I’ve run into examples where the lying itself becomes the end goal – sociopaths who concoct stories to see how long they can fool people, then revel in being found out, as if that heightened the pleasure of the entire enterprise of deceit.

It’s been said that all criminals – at least, criminals with the intent to commit their crimes, perhaps not criminals who had to steal from necessity, due to poverty or desperation – are sociopaths. That’s because it is our consciences that keep us from doing things we know to be wrong. As members of a community, we sign on to a social compact, an understanding with other people, to care for one another, at least to the minimal extent that we agree not to commit acts we define as crimes because they hurt others.

The most dangerous sociopaths are the ones who are less concerned with fooling people or even stealing from people than they are with controlling people. They don’t want to be found out. They want the lies to go on forever so they can continue controlling those around them….

Which brings us to Donald Trump, our next President, and why I believe he’s a sociopath, and thus very dangerous, especially in his new role leading our nation.

First observation: Donald Trump tells lies without the least hesitation.

The lies are near-constant, and on their face, many are absurd. The lie about President Obama not being born in the United States could be disproven in a moment by posing the simple thought problem: Where would Obama’s mother, the teenage daughter of middle-class Midwesterners scraping by on modest salaries in Honolulu, fly to in order to give birth outside her own home country? Fiji? Japan? The Philippines? Chile? Any alternative, non-US locale she could have chosen (ignoring the question of why would she would go to all the trouble of choosing one in the first place and then somehow faking a US birth certificate) would involve an expensive, lengthy flight across thousands of miles of ocean just to place her near-penniless, American, teenage self for no particular purpose, outside the US. Likewise, the endlessly repeated lie that Obama is Muslim (particularly offensive, because it implies there is something wrong with being Muslim) is also flatly absurd, since Obama was raised by his Christian mother and grandparents and barely met, let alone knew, his Muslim father, a visiting graduate student from Kenya. It is absurd to imagine Trump actually believes such nonsense.

However, Trump knew those lies would produce the desired response in an audience of racist, anti-Muslim extremists who hated Obama, and so Trump told those lies. And these are only two of dozens and dozens of outrageous, hateful mistruths he initiated or perpetuated before, during and even after the campaign. Trump knew he could control people, excite them, fire them up, by telling them exactly what he sensed they wanted to hear. He continues to lie, and lie and lie and lie, in order to give whoever is listening to him a chance to hear whatever it was they want to hear and thus fall under his control.

Second observation: Donald Trump has no fixed values, morals or ethical precepts.

Continue Reading »

b775975a44e3d7a4395cfdebcc7db7cdI just turned fifty, so I can tell you about old. Old isn’t merely the words “Mission: Impossible” conjuring memories of a show you watched as a kid in 1973 on a “color console tv set” the size of a freezer chest. Old transcends. Old abides. Old pushes through to not caring if everyone else’s memories zip directly to a movie with Tom Cruise hanging off a cliff. Old concedes Jean-Luc Picard a place in the pantheon beside Kirk and Spock, but remains firm in its belief Peter Graves and the miniature reel-to-reel tape player that self-destructed after five seconds were the height of awesome, Tom Cruise or no Tom Cruise. Old is about “values.” Old doesn’t haggle over this stuff.

What made the original Mission: Impossible show so much fun (other than its co-starring Martin Landau, which already made it fun) was the bizarrely improbable nature of the missions. They were supposed to be “impossible” to carry out, but in reality that was the least of the issues. The “mission” generally took place in some made-up Eastern European country with a name like “Vladistan” with a grey, oppressive capital city (“Vodkagrad” sounds good) and there was always an evil dictator holding a good, democratic leader guy captive in Vodkagrad (not that I remember details – I was seven years old, chomping a peanut butter and jelly sandwich during much of the action.) I mostly recall that a couple of the IMF (“Impossible Mission Force”) agents hung out in equipment rooms tapping phone lines and fiddling with electronic gadgets, glancing nervously at their watches, while the others (including Martin Landau!) wore disguises so convincing you only realized who they were when they peeled off plastic masks. How cool was that?

But my point – and I do (despite advancing age) have a point – is that I’ve recently, in my role of psychotherapist to the lawyers, been assigned “missions” by biglaw firms, requests for my services, that leave me feeling like Mr. Phelps watching wisps of smoke rise from the little reel-to-reel. I’m a publicity whore, like any author who ever sold a book (or tried to) and yes, I might be termed a whore-whore as well, in some respects, like any public speaker who ever pocketed a fee. Points conceded. But on those occasions when I’ve managed to get hired to speak at conferences and panels and industry events and even at law schools, everything has come off if not without a hitch, then at least without a major conflagration. Invite me over, serve me lunch, treat me nice, and I’m a total pro, no trouble at all.

Yet, somehow, when it’s a biglaw firm that comes calling for my services, everything goes all pear-shaped. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and be your own Mr. Phelps – check out a couple “impossible missions” that came my way recently, and decide for yourself whether you’d “choose to accept” them. I’m still scratching my head, long after the tape self-destructed. To wit:

Impossible Mission #1: Death 

Continue Reading »

trump-university-3Congratulations, you’ve “gained admission” to a lower-tier law school! You might be wondering what the actual experience is going to be like. Well, if you’re one of those lucky souls who’s had the unique pleasure of matriculating at Trump University, you’re at a big advantage, because lower-tier law schools and Trump University are a whole lot alike. Let’s count the ways:

#1: It’s all about money. It probably didn’t take you long to ascertain Trump University was about money – and no, not about making you a millionaire, about making Donald Trump a millionaire a few more times over. Contrary to what you may have believed beforehand, when The Donald founded his “university,” he wasn’t on some idealistic mission to bring real estate investment expertise to the benighted masses. He wanted your money. He wanted it badly enough to shed all compunction with regard to tapping the limit on your credit card so he could squeeze out every drop. Emptying your wallet was the objective, plain and simple.

Guess what? It’s the same thing at a law school. The only difference is they have a leg up when it comes to wallet-emptying: Instead of bullying you into upping your credit card limit, they line you up at the bursar’s office with instructions to “sign on the dotted line.” You’ll hardly notice you’ve borrowed $200,000 in bankruptcy-proof loans at a high rate of interest – that is, until you’re condemned to financial ruin (which might be the least of your worries, once you wind up unemployed, or worse yet, stuck in a low-paying legal job with nightmarish hours and sadistic management. Trump stole your money – these guys steal your soul.)

Now that I’ve revealed these alarming details about law school, you’re probably mulling whether, given these drawbacks, it might be such a good idea to attend. Law schools worry about that, too – which brings us to another parallel between these two august institutions…

Continue Reading »

The wait is finally over. STILL Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (the Sequel) is finally here! The ebook came out today – paperback should be available within another week or two.

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Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

 

 

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

 

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

 

 

 

 

I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls

in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance

washington-cherry-treeA patient was complaining about dating.

“It’s annoying.  You have to be cheerful and upbeat.  What if you’re not feeling it?”

I asked him how he really felt.

“Don’t even go there.  I hate people.  All they ever do is take.”

He wanted to meet a girl with whom he could actually bond, and get close.  But it seemed impossible.  He was looking online – it was easier, and that way he didn’t have to actually go out into the world and deal with humanity.

“What’s your online profile like?”

“The usual – just a regular guy who likes to go out for dinner and take walks in the park, blah blah blah.”

“Is that really you?”

He shrugged.  “Is that really anybody?”

“So there’s your mistake.  You’re not introducing yourself as you really are.”

“Who would want me as I really am?”

“You’d be surprised.”

Your first instinct, when you post a dating profile online, might be to do what everyone else does – lie.  But that doesn’t help you achieve your goal of meeting an appropriate partner, it hinders it.

Many years ago, when I was single, I fell into the same trap myself – I typed up a bland, predictable online dating profile that made me out to be pretty much like everyone else.  Then, at some point out of boredom or sheer frustration, I decided as an experiment to post a profile that told the truth.  The result sounded something like this:

I’m Probably Not For You

I am not a “regular guy” and I won’t be right for most people reading this.  I’m a bit intellectual and if you aren’t a bit intellectual too and don’t read all the time and love classical music and jazz it isn’t going to work.  My perfect night out is vegetarian food followed by a classical piano recital at Carnegie Hall followed by listening to some guy play saxophone in a jazz club.  I eschew discotheques and bars and don’t really “get” Madonna or Broadway.  Oh, and I’m a raging atheist, a partisan Democrat, hate smoking and cars and suburban sprawl and have strong opinions across the board on most things.  I kiss my dog on the lips.  If this sounds right and you like my picture, go for it.

Instead of the occasional bland note I’d been receiving with my old profile, I was suddenly deluged by interested parties writing me long, detailed letters.  And all I did was tell the truth.

It works with simple stuff, like sex, too.  I worked with an African-American gay guy a while back who told me he had no luck with online ads on dating sites.  I asked him what he was advertising for, and he said – oh, the usual – “versatile guy looking for fun.”

Then I asked him what he really wanted.to_tell_the_truth

“Oh, a big daddy to top me all night.”

“Then why don’t you ask for what you want?”

“Oh, no one wants a big bottom…”

“No harm in trying.”

He posted a profile advertising (more or less) “Hungry super-bottom for fierce daddy top.”

That did the trick, so to speak.  He had more offers than he could handle.

Gay or straight, or in-between, if you tell the truth – at very least, about sex – someone might be looking for what you’ve got to offer.  I’ve had clients with interests in kink, or who liked to be submissive in bed – or to dominate – and nothing works better than just coming out and saying it.  You can bet someone else shares your interests, or has an interest in accommodating it, but you’ll never find out unless you take the first step and tell the truth.  If you want to smear her body with whipped cream, then lick it all off (or have someone do that to you) then say so!  (And yes, that might entail first finding a dating site that specializing people into whipped cream, but if you look, it’s probably out there.)

In broad terms, truth-telling –  direct, honest communication – is always a good first step towards establishing a healthy relationship.  I’m frequently asked the question:  “How can I tell someone else something difficult about myself?”  My answer is always the same:  directly and honestly.  When you stop and think about it, isn’t the definition of a best friend “the person you can say anything to”?  And that goes especially for talking about the most personal stuff of all – the stuff about yourself.  A romantic partner is supposed to be your best friend, the person who can know you – and accept you – as you really are.

Forthright communication regarding who you are means you stop apologizing for yourself, and own that you are in charge of your identity, and decide who you want to be, living as best you can the life you’ve been given.  That’s the very definition of charisma – feeling comfortable in your own skin.

truthinessSometimes you might feel the urge to hide stuff you’re afraid no one can accept, as if you’ve forgotten you’re not alone in being human.  I had another gay client who was 69 years old and HIV+.  He wanted to date online, but was terrified to reveal the truth about his age or his HIV status.  Instead, he ran a profile with no photo or details, and lied about how old he was.  Predictably, no one answered, and he was crushed.

I suggested he bite the bullet and tell the truth.  It took weeks to bring him around, but finally he put up a pic (he was actually a good-looking guy) and revealed both his age and status.  Lo and behold!  Dozens of gay men in their 60’s and 70’s started coming out of the woodwork, many of them also HIV+.  It only took one person with the courage to stand up and stop apologizing for the reality of his life, and everyone else followed.

Back to that first client.  We talked about possible approaches to his “truthful” profile, and came up with something along these lines: Continue Reading »

Moi?

Picture 31A life-long dream has at last come true.  I’ve been profiled…in French!  Oui!  Little ol’ moi has made it into the pages of French Canada’s most prestigieux publication for lawyers, Droit-inc!

Yes, I know.  I am sooooo fabuleux.

Merci mille fois – et bisoux – to the vraiment formidable Marie Pâris of Droit-inc for adding immense glamour to my existence.  I feel so chic!

The interview was un peu scandaleuse…but you’ll have to pull out your French dictionaires to read it!

(or, of course, you could just use the Google Chrome browser and hit the “translate” button, but that’s cheating, now isn’t it?)

Click here to read the full article.

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==========

Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

 

 

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

 

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

 

 

 

 

I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls

in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance

24DB-PEARSON-master675The People’s Therapist just got profiled in The Financial Times (with a couple other therapists.)

To read the full article, click here.  (Yes, I know, it’s behind a pay wall…but go ahead and subscribe, it’s worth it to read The Financial Times!)  The headline of the piece is “Care from lawyers turned therapists”  and the sub-headline is “Behind a polished exterior can be anxiety, say those who listen to the angst of legal professionals.”

Many thanks to the lovely Emma Jacobs, and Annabel Cook, in London, and the estimable Pascal Perich, in New York City, who took that smashing photo of me with my senior colleague, Simon Dachshund.

Alas, I’ve had to take down my delightful screenshot of the article…the charming Barbara Volkar of the FT’s syndication sales department emailed me, and apparently it violates copyright to reproduce it.  Posting a legally sanctioned reproduction of the article would cost literally thousands of dollars.  And that’s why this post appears a bit truncated.

Sigh…damned lawyers.

Oh poop – here’s a teeny tiny screenshot, just so you can see what it looks like.  It’s hardly even legible.  Let ’em sue me!  They’ll have to tear this moment of glory (a profile in the FT!) from my cold, dead online fingers.

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 7.09.52 AM

…and here’s what it looked like in print (again, really teeny, to fend off the copyright police…)

IMG_20160205_2151036

 

==========

Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

 

 

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

 

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

 

 

 

 

I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls

in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance